Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Miror Mirror: who is the worst one of them all?

As a self published author, it is sometimes difficult to get feedback on the work that I put out there. Getting comments on a blog is always difficult, and there is no agent to massage my ego, or a publisher out there demanding more excellent material. So when reactions come my way, either in the form of an email, blog post comment or even better, a review, I love it.  What I am enjoying about my reviews is the reaction to one of my main characters, Daniel Fox.

Daniel Fox is the anti-hero, the antagonist, and the schmuck who you wish would disappear, find a hole to crawl back into and stop quietly destroying people’s lives. Or is he? Could I really have created somebody so one dimensional, that simply walks around Terminator style reaping havoc upon those around him? Could he really have no discernible or redeeming character trait that could help explain his torturous ways? The simple answer is no. Yes, he has a lot; let's repeat that, a lot of traits that mean anybody contemplating a relationship/friendship/employment contract of any kind with Daniel Fox should run for the hills screaming faster than you can say put that needle down. But there is another side to him. A tortured side built out of misfortune when life conspired against him and where love and luck failed him. I don't want you to hate Daniel Fox when you read his story. OK, OK, you might at first. But I hope eventually you might come to understand him. You might just come to find his fatal flaw and see, if time travel were a reality where you might be able to put things right.

So this got me thinking. Who is my favourite of all time? Which characters have I seen on screen or in print that make me feel this way? I'm not talking ultimate bad guys like the Alien of Ridly Scott, or Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in Full Metal Jacket. These are the destroyers of life. There is no other side to these charaters, just pure conviction in their actions. I'm talking about the guys and girls where you can see how it happened: the ones that never got to make that choice. The ones that were not as the saying goes, 'born this way'. So let’s meet the characters where either nurture or illness is everything to blame.

Michael Corleone

Possibly, but still questionably (thanks to Goodfellas and Joe Pesci) my favourite of all gangster characters. The impact of nurture is easy to explain as he regales the story of his father holding a gun to the head of Jonny Fontane's manager to 'help him with his career' in The Godfather: Part I. As the son of Vito, husband to a murdered wife, brother to the murdered Sonny, was it not inevitable that eventually he would one day be received as The Godfather?

Norman Bates

In the novel Psycho by Robert Bloch, Norman is a tortured boy and teenager, tormented incessantly by his mother. When she intends to remarry and open a motel, he kills her and her partner, and yet unable to live without her he steals her corpse. His mother continues to 'live' inside of him manifesting in his own actions, and when she rises to the surface he becomes the monster that she in no small part created.

Annie Wilkes
It could not possibly be the blog post of a writer, or a post about bad guys without a mention of this woman. As writers we strive for fans and recognition, people who follow us on blogs and websites, and people who can't wait to buy our books. Sound familiar? Undoubtedly struck by more mental illness than her cheery exterior could conceal, who can possibly forget the scene with the mallet and the ankles. I am shuddering at the thought. Come to think of it, who are you and why are you interested in reading this..............

Hanibal Lecter

The subject matter of my year eight school prize and subsequent horror of the presenting head teacher as she picked up the book, Lecter is one of the all time scare-you-senseless bad guys. His dramatisation by Sir Anthony Hopkins did nothing to quell that slow steady burn of creepiness of his long lingering desire before it erupts into an act of all out and somehow surprisingly unexpected rage. He can at first be thought of as little more than a cannibal best off locked away to suffer next to Miggs in the soulless dank corridor of confinement, but as we flesh out the story (ahem) we eventually learn his tortured and Nazi-destroyed childhood, his failings become very, and all to perfectly clear.

Michael Myers
At this point I have lingered for some time. How can this list be summed up in five characters. Struggling to get into this last spot was one of my personal favourites: the chillingly calm John Doe from Se7en. Kevin Spacey, I salute you.  Plus, Robert De Niro's wonderful portrayal of Max Cady deserves a mention: his malevolence in the simplest of acts was astounding, let alone when he proceeded to chew off a cheek.

But Michael Myers, The Shape from the Halloween series is terrifying in his sheer emptiness. There is no second dimension to see with Myers. There is no fatal flaw. His is simply a personification, the walking evil, and yet is the son of a normal couple. A normal boy, it would seem, until he dons a clown mask and goes rooting around in the kitchen. There is no identifiable flaw in his nurture. His is just a boy.

So perhaps this is the point worth making when we construct our anti heroes. It is not the act of evil that makes our characters unlikeable. Or indeed the brutality of their crime. It is only in the juxtaposition of that evil against the good that provides us a basis upon which to judge them. It seems after all, that it is the normal elements of our characters that allow us to experience, witness, and withdraw from their cruel and monstrous side.


  1. Quite a circle of friends, wouldn't you say? Imagine having these characters following your Twitter feed. You can practically see the "@MichelleMuckley Helloooo!" from old H.L. himself. lol

    What you said about one-dimensional characters is true. It's when the villain has layers that they become something more tragic. Some of these characters never stood a chance.

    As for Daniel Fox, I felt for the guy. Reading 'Deference' I could not help but recognize how many times in his life he had been manipulated into doing what was expected of him. Does it excuse his actions? No. Again, I think he's a character who represents and embodies the very tragedies of the story. The loss of love, respect, humanity...

    An interesting topic, Michelle!

  2. Thank you Jason. It's quite the dinner party isn't it, as long as H.L. is at the table and not in the kitchen. Layers are exactly what is needed I think to be able to identify with the bad guy.

    What you said about Daniel Fox from 'Deference' is exactly what I hope people are able to see. He wasn't born evil, although you could describe his actions as such. he didn't want to destroy his best friends life, in fact quite the opposite, he couldn't bare to lose him. His issues were no excuse, but an explanation can help us understand him and his 'choices'.

  3. Can't you see them hashing it out over who gets to carve the turkey? Or whatever bit of mystery meat might be prepared! In all those characters, it was the small moments that captured their last shreds of humanity that made them even more chilling. Lecter's love of art, Annie's excitement over books, etc. Without those things, they would be soulless.

    You make a fine point about Daniel. I wouldn't categorize him as evil either. I think he was impulsive, not a plotter but a reactor. The way you developed his character certainly made him a person who the audience could still sympathize with and that's not easy.

    Strangely enough, I read an article about the influence of Norman Bates--which you might already know. It seems Bates was based upon real-life murderer Ed Gein. In a wink to your blog, Gein also inspired the character of 'Buffalo Bill' in The Silence of the Lambs.

    1. He very nearly made it to the list too, but I thought I couldn't put them both in! I haven't heard about this article, or the fact that these characters were based on Ed Gein. If you have that available, please send it on. I would love to have a read.

      I'm glad that you didn't find Daniel evil as a whole and that somehow you found a way to sympathise. My aim was that exactly.